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April 17th, 2012

10 Things We Saw, Heard And Learned At The Shabazz Palaces Show Last Night At The Blockley



shabazz

Many things happened in the world last night. For example, ten thousand freelance writers blew their brains out after submitting their taxes. We didn’t do that. We were at the Shabazz Palaces concert at The Blockley. A band opened for the Seattle rap project, but we don’t know who that band was. And there was a headlining band, but their name is too complicated for us to write this early in the morning. Here are 10 things we saw, heard and learned.

1. Philadelphian King Britt, who used to DJ for Shabazz boss Ishmael Butler a.k.a. Butterfly’s old group Digable Planets, was DJing when we walked in at about 9:30pm. He was kicking a Stereolab tune.

2. Make Major Moves ain’t a gossip rag, but there were some local music celebs in the building. We spotted South Philly rapper Lushlife, and Butler’s Digable Planets comrade Cee Knowledge a.k.a. Doodlebug. (We were hoping for an on-stage reunion, but that didn’t happen.) We also spotted some members of a very prestigious Philly rock band, but we don’t want to blow their covers. Let’s just say we saw members of the band “Woman Woman” enjoying the show. There were others, but we’re not saying who. You should’ve been there.

3. Butler a.k.a. Palaceer Lazaro was rapping and pushing buttons on a sampler and a Mac. He was joined onstage by Shabazz partner Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, who is the son of Zimbabwean mbira master Dumisani Maraire. Baba was kicking a mbira, a drum kit, some small percussion instruments and adding back-up vocals.

4. The duo doesn’t perform songs quite like the recorded versions you may be familiar with from the albums Shabazz Palaces, Of Light and Black Up. There’s an improvisational element, and the tunes are radically expanded, provided even more space to sprawl, lounge, linger, drift, meditate, elevate. Songs begin, vanish, merge into other songs, and then other songs, and then the song that began begins again. The experience is somewhat similar to Black Up’s “Are you… Can you… Were you..?” in which three  movements develop across a single track. But this was different, as tracks unexpectedly evolved into other tracks. Tracks on tracks on tracks. It was dreamlike. Like a Terry Malick flick. Like too much Nyquil for breakfast.

5. Rap concerts are normally terrible if you go for the music and not for the party. This is what happens at about 85% of the ones we go to: a DJ plays the recorded version of a song and a rapper raps over it. But the DJ doesn’t just play the instrumental, s/he plays the recorded version with the vocals included. So the rapper is rapping over her/himself. It’s disgusting. It shows us that the rapper cannot rap live the way s/he does on wax. Lazaro doesn’t do this. He raps live. There’s no track playing in the back. The instrumentation–some samples, some acoustic, some electronic–is all happening live. And since, as mentioned above, there’s a spontaneous element introduced to the performance such that the songs structurally shift in unpredictable ways, that weak shit most rappers display is not even possible for Shabazz.

6. Many rap fans don’t dig Shabazz Palaces. Namely because the music is so goddamn strange. It doesn’t quite fit into the mold of Lex Luger maximalism or “Rack City” minimalism. It doesn’t sound like anything on rap radio. It’s out. And, as a consequence, Lazaro isn’t given the props he deserves on the mic. While meditating deeply on Lazaro’s lyrics during the performance, we were reminded of a comment Philly rapper Zilla Rocca made on music blog Passion Of The Weiss about him. “Ish is fucking gangster,” wrote Zilla. “You don’t have to like the music behind Shabazz Palaces, but if you write down Ish’s lyrics and put them over Rick Ross beats, you’d understand the slickness.” It’s true. Put Lazaro over a Luger trap-beat, and he’d sound harder than Gunplay. But we prefer him spitting over his own bizarre beats and textures, which sound much more interesting than all that radio rap shat.

7. Something we didn’t expect to happen happened a few times. Lazaro and Baba had worked out some synchronized dance moves, and every once in a while they’d clap and sway in unison.

8. See that photo up there? ^^ I took that. Holler at me if you wanna hire me to shoot your wedding.

9. One of the highlights of the roughly 35 minute set was “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum.” Baba kicked an extended mbira jam, gradually building up a series of melodies above a heavy, but minimal, bass line. (Oh yeah, that reminds us, the bass was fucked at The Blockley. It sounded like a speaker blew pretty early in the night.)

10. Another banger was “Chuch” from Of Light. This is one of Shabazz’s hardest tunes. Lazaro rapped ferociously over Baba’s rhythms: “Ever since the ships came, we kicked slick game make name mistake the claim, and never ever ever tame, and stay way fresher than the ‘presser.” And what do they call that? “Survival with style,” goes the chorus. Think about it.

–Elliott Sharp wants you to follow him on Twitter @Elliott Sharp.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 Posted in Reviews, Shows | No Comments »

February 23rd, 2012

Portlandia Live Tour Trashed In Washington Post



Portlandia-Tour-Poster

Yesterday we got another comment of the review/recap we did of Portlandia’s live tour, this one from someone who’d just seen the show at Washington, D.C.’s famed 9:30 Club. Commenter “dweebcentric” found the whole thing as disappointing as we did.  To wit:

My friends and I saw the show they did at the 9:30 Club in DC last night. It was originally sold as a sit-down show, then became a standing-only show, and then they opened it for a second time slot, which was also sold out. That was the first problem – being packed into a venue where, because now you had to stand (and stand wherever you could find room), you missed whatever the hanging speakers blocked. For that, I blame the venue itself. Plan it better, y’all.

But we were just as disappointed. When Eleanor got on stage at the end (for whatever goddamn reason) and started playing, I was already pissed. When they launched into a cover of Natalie Merchant, I was eying the door.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, if maybe the show was 15 or 20 bucks. Ok, no big deal? But at close to 40 bucks a pop, com’mon!

Over the last couple days we’ve noticed our Tweet about the show being RT’d, with a “Totally!” or “Yep!” tacked on for good measure. Even got a couple emails and phone calls from people expressing their discontent with the whole thing. Then, the Washington Post’s review of the D.C. show found its way into our inbox. And, whoa! It’s a ball buster. Dan Zak goes hard on lil ole Fred and Carrie. Just straight drops bombs on them. Bombs like this:

Thirty-six dollars for half-hearted retreads of musical numbers from the show, a “trilogy” of short sketch videos with zero laughs and a Q&A session during which Washingtonians asked stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein what it’s like to work with Kyle McLachlan, what it’s like to work with Kristen Wiig and “Are you two having sex?” The co-stars, who seemed uninterested in their own show, couldn’t come up with a pithy rejoinder to that question. The resulting awkwardness tipped the show from rambling pastiche to an ill-conceived, half-baked, rudderless, 80-minute chat about nothing.

Yowza! That last sentence means business. And it was totally our experience at the show. Here’s more Zak Attack:

The pickled egoism that they lampoon on television was presented as unspun matter-of-factness on stage, creating a self-referential, self-defeating artistic disconnect, an ouroboros in a wormhole.

We had “an ouroboros” in our “wormhole” once. It went away with medication. But this is about something different. We think. Anyway, read the whole thing here. And, confidential to Fred and Carrie: TRY HARDER. You’re pissing people off!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 Posted in Reviews | No Comments »

February 20th, 2012

12 Things We Saw, Heard And Learned At Last Night’s Portlandia Tour Show



Portlandia-Tour-Poster

Last night Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein brought a live version of their popular IFC show Portlandia to town for two sold out shows at the Troc. We were at the late 10:30pm show! Here are 12 things we saw, heard and learned there.

1. Holy Put A Bird On It, that line! Believe us when we say the line outside was THE MOTHER OF ALL LINES. The way it works at the Troc for busy shows is, they start the line about 50 feet west of the entrance, just past a parking lot. The doors open, and they begin to let people in in groups of 20-ish, and, generally, it moves pretty fast. But the line to get into Portlandia—and this is not an exaggeration—went around the corner onto 11th Street, and then around the corner of Cherry Street. We got there about 10:20 and made the line when it was in the middle of Cherry. And people kept coming. And coming. And coming. It was great to look at peoples’ faces as they rounded Cherry Street to see how long they still had to walk after they’d already walked a two blocks. Folks were taking photos of the line when they turned onto Cherry. Lots of “I don’t see how they’re going to fit all these people in.” The line eventually backed up onto 10th and Cherry. Nuts. We made it into the venue at 11:15. Like whoa!

2. Portlandia merch! Shirts and sweatshirts. With birds on them. A tote bag with a jar of pickles on it.

3. Fred and Carrie walk onto stage to rapturous applause. It’s now around 11:45. They both seem genuinely moved by the second sell out crowd of the night. “Geez, Philadelphia. Who knew?” says Carrie. Fred wanders around stage looking aloof. Carrie asks him what’s wrong and they launch into a ho-hum, not-terrible-but-not-hysterical bit about texts the two have sent back and forth to one another. He is warm and affectionate in his. She is cold and distant. That’s the bit. And it goes on for a good 10 – 15 minutes as they read texts back and forth.

4. They play that “The dream of the ’90s is alive in Porland” song with help from a drummer and a keyboardist. Fred is on bass, Carrie’s on guitar. It sounds kinda thin, and it lacks energy. But this song, and the sketch it’s in—the first sketch of Portlandia’s first episode—is the show’s thesis statement. Portland is where young people go to retire. It’s where you can put a bird on something and call it art. (See: Portlandia merch table.) At the very least, we’re familiar with the song, and so we smile despite its being lackluster.

5. Fred and Carrie don’t know much about Philly, so they call someone on stage to ask questions about it. That someone turns out to be a girl named Nicole, who lives in West Philly. We get to hear who her favorite band is (The Menzingers), what her favorite coffee shop is (in West Philly, it’s Satellite) and her favorite restaurant, Govinda’s, which has “the best vegetarian cheesesteak in the city,” according to Nicole. Fred and Carrie ask Nicole what some of the more annoying things are that people from outside Philly associate with Philly when they talk to her. Most of her answers—and ones shouted from the crowd—are pretty typical, but one in particular stood out: Her grandparents, when they talk to her about Philly, ask her to please not get shot. To which Fred asks, “Why? Are you guys known for being shot here?”

6. After finding out all of Nicole’s likes and dislikes, we’re treated to another song, “She’s Making Jewelry Now.” It’s about a lot of people you probably know—they’ve bounced around from grad school program to grad school program, attempted culinary school, thought about becoming a masseuse, wondered aimlessly for years, and now make jewelry, which they sell on their own website. It’s funny, but, again, lacks something. Energy? Just kinda stale.

7. After “She’s Making Jewelry Now” Fred and Carrie begin to banter with the crowd. Do we know anyone who makes jewelry? Has anyone ever made us a piece of jewelry that was awful, but we felt obligated to wear it? At this point, some douche in back yells “I can make you a pearl necklace!!!” Yuk, yuk, yuk. The crowd groans audibly. Really, guy? JESUS. Fred handles it with more grace than you can imagine—it’s reasonable to believe that he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. “Aww. Man. What a bummer,” he says. “Hey guys, remember when the energy was really great in here, really positive? And then he yelled that out and it went bewwwwwwwwwww.” (”Bewwwwww” is how we’re choosing to spell Fred’s nosedive noise.) Carrie then made a point we wish all hecklers everywhere could hear: “There was such little expectation of you tonight. All you had to do was come and watch and not yell things out, but you couldn’t do it.” Fred then jokingly challenged him to come on stage and give him a pearl necklace. “I want to take you up on it. I don’t think you could do it.”

8. Throughout the show we were played as-yet-unaired skits from the show. They were funny, but you had to wonder how people felt about paying $30 to watch something that they’ll eventually see on TV in a few weeks. And that’s the thing about the Portlandia live show: It didn’t seem all that planned. It was amorphous. It had no shape. We’d heard that it was supposed to feel as though we were all just friends in Fred and Carrie’s living room, all just shooting the breeze casual like. It definitely had that feel. But it also felt unfinished. Unplanned. It wasn’t really a show. It had it’s moments, but at $30 a pop, it damn sure didn’t have enough of them. Here’s a visual guide to how some people felt after the show.

9.We go through photos on Fred and Carrie’s laptop. Fred says, from the outset, “There are no jokes in this part.” It’s not meant to be funny. We’re just going through photos on their respective laptops. And some of them are admittedly pretty sweet. There’s one of Fred as a youngster dressed as Dracula. One of him in high school with a mohawk. There’s a poem he wrote about blood. There’s a birthday card from Carrie to her mother that she made at a young age. There are also photos of Fred and Carrie from the first time they met. All very sweet, yes, but it all kinda seemed like an afterthought. Fred had a picture of himself with the late Steve Jobs that was kinda cool though.

10. Q&A with Fred and Carrie. This was especially annoying because, from where we stood anyway, you couldn’t hear the questions from those asking them. Fred and Carrie would just launch into an answer about Battlestar Galactica or how they came up with their safe word or some such and we’d be left to wonder what the question was. It would’ve been nice to have had one of them repeat the question over the mic.

11. Carrie says that, in Portland, when you put any piece of clothing in the closet in Portland—be it made of cotton or leather—it magically turns to fleece. Fleece is the fabric of choice in Portland, she says, adding “It’s the fabric of depression.” A girl behind us says,”It’s so true!”

12. OK, so the show is a bit meh and low energy all around. With the long wait outside we’ve all been standing up for about three hours. We need a big finale. And so … Fred and Carrie bring out Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces to play a few songs with her from her new solo album? They play “Heaven.” And then another one. We, like a good deal of the crowd, decide to take off. It was a weird end to a so so night. Still love the show though.

Monday, February 20th, 2012 Posted in Reviews | 8 Comments »

January 3rd, 2012

Ten Things We Saw, Heard And Learned At Good Old War’s NYE Show At The TLA



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Local trio Good Old War rang in 2012 at the TLA on Saturday night in front of a packed house. It was a delight. Here’s what went on:

1. A rousing opening set from Tom’s River, NJ octet (Whoa! Not a word we get use often.) River City Extension. The group blasted out punkish, multi-instrumental folk rock for an hour straight.

2. As per usual at the TLA, unfairly expensive beers. $7 for a PBR pounder. $8 for a Yards beer, brewed right across town. No New Year’s Eve price break. Shame.

3. DJ sets in between live music by Frosty, mashing up classic rock tunes, somehow in a tasteful manner.

4. Good Old War favorites—“Coney Island,” “Looking for Shelter,” “My Own Sinking Ship.”

5. Flawless three-part vocal harmonies from GOW, the central focus of each of their folk rock tunes, led by the charismatic Keith Goodwin.

6. Lots of pretty drunk people, singing really loudly out of tune with those harmonies.

7. GOW taking on a stirring rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” on which guitarist Dan Schwartz switched to the electric guitar for a fulfilling solo.

8. GOW debuting a few new songs from their upcoming third LP Come Back as Rain, including snappy new single, “Calling Me Names.” The upbeat “Loud Love” brought their set to a close, with its simple, glowing chorus turning into a final singalong.

9. A midnight countdown and sparkling run through of “Auld Lang Syne,” a song not played live in many places on New Year’s. Balloons dropping from the ceiling and a full-on celebration for another hour of Good Old War.

10. A sincerely warm, friendly crowd of all ages. People dancing, singing, meeting, drinking, laughing, hugging, kissing. It was all-around, good-time camaraderie. (Kevin Brosky)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 Posted in Reviews | No Comments »

December 22nd, 2011

Elliott Sharp’s Top 10 Albums Of 2011



Isn’t it funny how, when music writers post their year-end lists, they tend to open with a few sentences about how stupid and subjective year-end lists are? Seems a bit wanky to me. I’m not gonna do that. Making lists and creating fun hierarchies is what humans do best. Here’s a list of my ten favorite albums of 2011, and tomorrow I’ll throw down a list of my 10 favorite albums by Philadelphia artists. Why not just make one list? Because the more the merrier! Merry Christmas! Be sure to share your faves in the comment section!

1. Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter One: Les Gens De Couleur Libre (Constellation) The New York City saxophonist dropped the only album this year to make me cry. LISTEN: “Rise”

2. Waka Flocka Flame – DuFlocka Rant V.1: 10 Toes Down (Self-Released) The Atlanta trap rapper’s wildest 2011 mixtape. Hurrr! Brick Squad Monopoly is my favorite monopoly. LISTEN: “I’m From Grove Street”

3. Wolves In the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord) The Pacific Northwest’s black metal gods dined hard on the flesh of kings. LISTEN: “Astral Blood”

4. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation) 99 problems but the 99% ain’t one. WATCH: “Otis”

5. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (Drag City) The end isn’t near, it’s now, and the singer-songwriter we once called Smog told us all about it. LISTEN: “Universal Supplicant”

6. Lil B – Illusions Of Grandeur (Self-Released) The Based God’s most delusional mixtape of the year. Yup, more cray than Im Gay/Im Happy. WATCH: “Illusions Of Grandeur”

7. Colin Stetson – New History of Warfare Volume 2: Judges (Constellation) The avant-garde saxophonist from Montreal that even indie-squares learned to love. LISTEN: “Red Horse (Judges II)”

8. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop) Far-out hip-hop for the lost children of Sun Ra realized by former Digable Planets member Butterfly. WATCH: “Black Up”

9. Death Grips – Exmilitary (Third Worlds) The pissed off American kids brutally slashed everything with post-everything daggers. WATCH: “Spread Eagle Cross The Block”

10. Iceage – New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture) The pissed off Denmark kids brutally slashed everything with punk-rock daggers. WATCH: “New Brigade”

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 Posted in Features, Reviews | No Comments »

December 13th, 2011

Guide To New Music, 12.13.11: Rammstein



Make Major Moves navigates the never-ending deluge of new music releases.
Rammstein
Made In Germany, 1995 – 2011
[Universal]

By Elliott Sharp
Yeah, so, in case you didn’t know, 2011’s quickly coming to an end. Among other things, that means there won’t be many, if any, notable new music releases in the next few weeks. Given this sad state of affairs, a Rammstein retrospective’s one of the only interesting things dropping today. Deal with it. Also, deal with this: Rammstein play Wells Fargo Center on April 26.

If you’re like me, then you only know the German band from its song “Du Hast,” the hit single from 1997 Platinum album, Sensucht. Two years earlier, the band’s debut album, Herzeleid, led music writers to the creation of a new tag specifically for it: “Neue Deutsche Härte.” That means “New German Hardness,” and, no, it’s not in reference to a German porn flick, or an extra-powerful German version of Viagra, but meant to capture a type of heavy music that combines German rock, heavy metal and electronic dance music. Sixteen years, a 1999 Grammy nomination for “Best Metal Performance,” and 6 studio albums later–the most recent was 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da–Rammstein’s line-up remains the same. But that’s not enough to justify a retrospective…

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This sucker comes in 3 different formats: A standard edition 16-track “best of” album with a new track called “Mein Land” (I double-dog-dare you to watch the weird ass video for the song posted above), a special edition that includes an additional CD with 17 remixes (by Faith No More, Pet Shop Boys, etc), and a super deluxe edition that includes both CDs and 3 DVDs packaged in a special steel box with a 240-page booklet. 1200 copies of the SUPER DELUXE EDISH are up for grabs in the United States. Who’s buying this? You? Is it you? Is it you! If it’s you, holler at me and I’ll think about interviewing you because I want to know what is inside your mind. Seriously. Holler.

If you’ve heard “Du Hast,” then you’ve heard every Rammstein song: distorted electric guitars, some straight-ahead techno sonics, big drums, and a scary/manly German voice. Something like late-White Zombie/early-Rob Zombie with a German voice. “Du Hast,” in fact, is Rammstein’s best song, because it captures all these sounds–rock, techno, metal, German manliness–the best. There’s no diversity across the retrospective–the tracks really all follow the same blueprint, use the same tones and structure, and never deviate in the slightest, tiniest bit. These dudes had a vision and they realized it. And, to criticize them for sounding inhuman or mechanical or robotic or whatever, doesn’t really work because that’s what they aim for.

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In other words, this is a big hunk of useless plastic, paper and steel. Why release it, then? Because, these guys integrated rock music and electronic dance music, and 2011 is the year electronic dance music broke. Justin Bieber recently announced his new record will be heavy on the dubstep. The stuff was written all over pop this year (cf. Rihanna’s Talk That Talk), and nu-metal band Korn’s new album, The Path Of Totality, features production work by dubstep artists on each song, most notably Skrillex. In an interview with Billboard, Korn’s Jonathan Davis claimed his band invented dubstep. Formed at the same time as Korn, Rammstein now want to cash in on the hype. That’s what this sucker’s all about. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, while Korn unconsciously integrated rock and dubstep, Rammstein knowingly merged rock and electronic dance music. Therefore, Rammstein invented Korn.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 Posted in Features, Reviews | 8 Comments »

December 6th, 2011

Guide To New Music, 12.6.11: New Releases By The Black Keys, Laura Marling, And The Roots



Make Major Moves navigates the never-ending deluge of new music releases.

The Black Keys
El Camino

[Nonesuch]

By Elliott Sharp
Akron, Ohio’s the Black Keys don’t give a fuck about being called sell-outs. So, fuck you! The Grammy-toting blues-rock duo’s seventh album sports a picture of a shitty old van on the cover, which is probably the van Dan Auerbarch and Patrick Carney take with ‘em on tour. They don’t just get in the van, they live in the van, baby. So why don’t you crawl in it with ‘em and live like they do: hardcore.

Anyway, here’s 11 new tracks from these guys. Well-produced blues-rock. That’s what they do. Twangy licks with high school gymnasium pep-rally choruses on “The Lonely Boy.” Too bad Friday Night Lights is dead, because it would be perfect for it. “Dead And Gone” is a spunky little number, perfect for New Girl–easy to imagine Zooey doing some annoying shit to this one. “Gold On The Ceiling” is a a bit dirty and gnarly, ideal for a PBR ad. The soft acoustic intro for “Little Black Submarines” would go great with an ad for a White Stripes boxset.

“Money Maker,” which is The Black Keys theme song, sounds like the Super Bowl to me, or maybe a Black Crowes reunion campaign. “Run Right Back” is Budweiser.  ”Sister” has the sorta hard edge ideal for an iPod commercial. “Hell Of A Season” = Nike. “Stop Stop” = Budweiser, too. “Nova Baby” is very meaningful. Ron Paul 4 Prez? “Mind Eraser” is disco all the way. Does your product exemplify the spirit of disco? If so, holler at these guys. Mark your calendars because the Black Keys’s hardcore van pulls into the Wells Fargo Center in March.
STREAM: El Camino.

Laura Marling
A Creature I Don’t Know
[Ribbon]

By Elliott Sharp
This third album by the 21-year-old London folk-singer was released back in September, but we’re just now getting around to it. Oops. Marling plays two sets at Grindcore House on Friday night, but both are sold-out. If you have tickets, then you’re smart, and we’re all jealous. Good for you. Go gloat.

Marling’s an interesting mix of Joni Mitchell’s elevatedness and power, Josephine Foster’s esoterica and worldliness, and Fiona Apple’s dark-sensuality and critical bite. Such comparisons aren’t to reduce her abilities, though. She’s unlike all of these other songwriters in that her attitude is completely of the NOW, though a traditional folk spirit lingers around her songs. (I’m not sure exactly what that means, but people most often capture it with the word “timelessness,” but I mean it more as a rootedness with the history of British folk musics.)

“I’m nothing but the beast/And I call on you when I need to feast,” she admits on “The Muse.” It sounds absolutely sexual, the way she articulates her relationship with the object of artistic inspiration. It’s unsure what exactly the unknown creature is–is it inside her, an ex-lover with whom she’s infatuated, lovers, her muse, muses, a ghost, ghosts? Either way, it’s a wonderful chase, an engaging journey through the processes of self-knowledge, relationship malfunction and creativity. Self- and other-regarding at once. The song arrangements? They’re beautiful, with lovely strings, banjos, electric hums and well-restrained drum crescendos. In conclusion: Damn you lucky bastards who have tickets to the Grindcore House performances. Damn you.
LIVE VID: The Muse.

The Roots
Undun
[Def Jam]

By Elliott Sharp
The Philly/Jimmy Fallon boys drop their tenth studio album this week. It’s a concept album, told in reverse, about fictional Philadelphian Redford Stephens. Redford has to choose between a “normal” life or a life of street crime. He chooses crime, and he dies (in the first song). While it’s about Philadelphia, after several listens, I don’t hear any direct references to the city. Am I missing something? Does the claim that it’s an “existential” tale mean that there need not be material references?

I hate to be a jerk here (actually, no, I don’t), but does it really mean anything to call Undun a concept album? Aren’t all Roots records about how tough it is to grow up on the streets of Philadelphia, and all the pains, hopes, tragedies and joys that come along with that? In fact, aren’t most hip-hop records about this? I mean, I get it, this book of tunes is about one particular character, but… Do you understand what I’m saying? Like, can you imagine a concept album by a country artist about a boy who grew up in Alabama, worked on his family farm, and then settled down with a wife and kids in his hometown and spent his time either sitting on the front porch reminiscing about “better times” or chilling at rodeos? Would that really be a concept album, or would that just be a country album? I’m probably alone with this critique, so…

Undun!  It’s short, under 40-minutes-long. ?uestlove’s arrangements and production are spectacular. It sounds nothing like any other hip-hop record you’ll hear this year. While it also doesn’t sound like Shabazz Palace’s much more way-out Black Up, it belongs in a category with that wonderful document for throwing a bit of a curveball to audiences expecting the straight-head fastball most rap producers are throwing. It’s minimal and spacious, and, while this may be a strange comparison, it reminds me of a Grizzly Bear album. Intricate, delicate and melodic. As always, Black Thought’s on point, spitting cleverly and prophetic.

The most interesting section of the album is the last four tracks, beginning with “Redford,” which is really just a Sufjan Stevens piece (yes, the precious indie guy wrote the composition that inspired the title, etc, of this album). After that we get three short instrumental tracks that mess with skronky-jazz and classical flourishes. It’s a pretty end to a pretty album, and it’s so pretty that the concept aspect isn’t really too important. The perfect record to be featured as one of the first full-album hip-hop streams on NPR, and certainly one both hip-hop heads and Others will dig.
STREAM: Undun.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 Posted in Features, Reviews | No Comments »
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